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More Niagara Falls tourist attractions opening, with changes

Some businesses are hoping to salvage what’s left of the critical summer season amid coronavirus concerns.

NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. — Under Phase 4 of the state's coronavirus reopening plan, many of the most popular attractions around Niagara Falls will be reopening in the next few days, just in time for the Independence Day weekend.

But the plans they had to come up with to meet state mandates are in some cases as unique as the attractions themselves.

When the Niagara Falls Aquarium opens to the general public on Saturday, it will be at 25 percent capacity. Groups will be asked to stay together, one family or one group per exhibit, and then follow a floor path to guide them through.

Lockport Caves will reduce tour groups in half, from the typical 30 to 15, to allow for social distancing

And when Rainbow Air resumes flights over the Falls on Thursday, passengers will be limited to two per flight, unless a group traveled together in which case up to four can occupy the helicopter.

Whether the British are coming, or the French for that matter, those coming to Old Fort Niagara starting Friday will have to move in a counterclockwise direction in order to reduce the chances of tour groups overlapping.

And at the biggest attraction of all, the Falls themselves, the state park’s department will try to limit the number of visitors to the most popular spots along the brink to about 50 percent of normal.

Additionally, staff may occasionally be reminding those hugging the railing next to the Falls to stay six feet apart.

Among all the attractions for tourists, however, the operators of the Whirlpool Jet Boats perhaps faced the biggest challenge to reopening.

To accommodate social distancing requirements, they brought in additional boats so that capacity on each one could be reduced from the typical 50 to only 17.

But that wasn't biggest wave to crest for the rides, on which passengers normally get soaked from the spray of the torrential waters of the lower Niagara.

“When we were working with our health officials the first thing that they challenged us with was the fact that paper and cloth masks become highly ineffective e once they get wet,” explained the company’s president, John Kinney.

So instead, guests will be required to wear helmets with plastic face shields.

“Our guests will kind of look like they are going on a lunar mission when they are getting on the boat,” Kinney said.

Meanwhile, Destination Niagara USA, the agency charged with promoting Niagara Falls is making a concerted effort to remind potential tourists of the many, less traditional and not so well-known attractions such as the miles of accessible trails that have been developed in more recent years along the waterfront.

“Wide Open Spaces … Now Open for Adventure,” seeks to market in particular outdoor adventures that can be experienced throughout Niagara County safely, without a mask.

An earlier version of this story in an evening broadcast incorrectly showed a boat from Niagara Jet Adventures, which is not affiliated with Whirlpool Jet Boats.

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